With winter in full gear now, especially in the north, people are hibernating and waiting for the green days of spring to come.  For many people that corresponds to being outdoors more.

Hiking and backpacking have become very popular activities for people.  For this writer, there is nothing like being on a trail that leads to glorious views, water (lakes, streams etc.), solitude and wildlife.

My wife and I have been hiking for over 10 years now and we have met very interesting animals and people as well.  Our hikes have ranged anywhere from 3 to 14 miles and we have hiked up many different elevation levels (up to around 10,000 feet).

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A large number of people will try hiking as an activity for the first time this year.  While it might seem relatively simple, (“it’s just like walking, but in the woods”), there are some things that people should be prepared for.

This article will explore eight ideas for the beginning hiker as he/she gets ready for their adventures.

Number One: Be Prepared Before the Hike:

This cannot be overemphasized enough.  A good hiker is a prepared hiker.  The first thing you should do is know where you are going and about how long your hike will be.  You should also bring a map of the trail with you and a pretty good idea of how to read it.  Even a two mile hike can turn into a longer adventure if you get turned around and lost.

There are many websites/blogs about hiking that are pretty decent with regards to the trails and how tough they might be.  The descriptions usually are easy, moderate, and hard.  In addition to the internet, there are books that also are available to you to help you prepare for your hike.

Number Two: Be Prepared with Your Gear:

If you are going for any type of hike that will be of a significant length, you probably will have some kind of backpack with you.  Having you pack prepared as best as you can will help you overcome any obstacle that might detour you from your hike.

Weather can change when you are on the trail as can the terrain.  Rain gear and a first aid kit are two valuable things you can bring with you.  A flashlight is also a good thing to keep in your pack with an extra set of batteries.

In the early part of spring the wind and cold are variables that should be accounted for as well. Dressing warm is a good idea. It is easier and a lot more comfortable for you to take layers of clothing off if you are too warm as opposed to not having any extra clothing to put on if you are too cold.

Number Three: Be Prepared with Your Body (Strength):

Whether you think you are in good shape or not, it is important to prepare your body for hiking.  The trail conditions change constantly and you are really not on level ground even if you are walking on a fire road.

Grade changes as well as changes in the trail width are very common.  That is not to say they are always daunting tasks, however you should be prepared.  Starting an exercise program now will not only help you shed some pounds (if you need to), but it will also help you gain strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.

Remember, if you are carrying a pack, you will have to plan for that extra weight.  Keeping you core and your back strong are very important.

A good beginning strength training program for hiking consists of squats, lunges and step-ups for the lower body.  Push-ups, chin-ups, one arm or upper back rows, incline bench press and military presses are great exercises for the upper body.  Planks and wood chops are important for the core.

The reason these exercises are preferred is because they closely mimic the movements that you will be doing when you are hiking. Start with 8-12 reps and 2-3 sets for your strength program.  You should aim for 2 times per week to do your strength training.

If you are a novice at strength training, you should look to start slowly and progress accordingly.  It is also a good idea to have a professional in the exercise field show you how to perform the exercises correctly.

Number Four: Be Prepared with Your Body (Endurance):

You would not run 5 miles if you did not prepare yourself to do so.  Why would you try to hike the same if you did not prepare?  We have encountered many people in our journeys who think that way.  Being prepared cardiovascularly is very important to not only a good hike, but an enjoyable one.

Just a simple walking program around your town is sufficient to start up your endurance engine.  Try to incorporate your towns landscape into your walk.  Go up hills, walk park routes, interval train, etc.  If it is too cold to be outside training, join a fitness centre and use the treadmill.  Vary your inclines and your speeds.

Remember, you do not have to run or jog.  Cross training with the elliptical machine is a good idea because it is a non-impact machine that will give your joints a break on those days.  Again, start slow and progress accordingly.  Your goal should be up to 60 minutes at a moderate pace for 3-5 days per week.

8 great hiking tips2

Number Five: Be Prepared with Your Body (Flexibility):

As with any activity involving movement, you should be as flexible as you can be.  This can help reach for that ledge when climbing up a rock scramble.  This can help reach for that rock with your leg when you are crossing a stream.  This can also help when you bend down to go under a big tree that is across your path.

Flexibility training will help you conquer all of these and others that may occur in your journey.  If you have not done any flexibility exercises in a long time, static stretching is probably your best bet at starting.

This method of flexibility training involves taking a specific joint or set of joints through a range of motion (ROM) to a comfortable end point, resting for approximately 20 seconds, and then repeating the stretch two to three times.

The goal of static stretching is to overcome the stretch reflex (the automatic tightening of a muscle when stretched, which relaxes after approximately 20 seconds) to coax a joint into a wider ROM. This is done by holding the stretch gently and not overstretching the muscle.

An example of this type of training is to sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and bend forward at the hips with your spine in a neutral position until you feel a slight tension in the hamstring group. This stretch requires relaxation of the hamstrings and will increase the ROM at the hip joint.

Advantages of static stretching can be used by virtually anyone; it is easily taught and usually very safe. Once learned, it can be performed in almost any environment without external assistance or equipment.

Disadvantages of static stretching are that while flexibility will improve at a specific body position, it will only improve to a small degree outside of that position, limiting its effectiveness for athletes or those wanting to increase flexibility in multiple ROM’s.

Another approach to flexibility training uses increasingly dynamic movements through the full ROM of a joint. Dynamic stretching develops active ROM through the process of reciprocal inhibition, where the agonist muscle is contracting while the antagonist or opposite muscle is carried through the lengthening process.

When performed correctly, dynamic stretching warms up the joints, maintains current flexibility, and reduces muscle tension. The exercise begins at a slow pace and gradually increases in speed and intensity.

This method of stretching is best performed before exercise or activity that is movement based, like hiking.  An example of this type of stretching is when a person stands on one foot, flexes the hip joint of the nonsupporting leg (knee extended, like a pendulum).

This motion contracts the hip flexors (agonists) and requires inhibition or relaxation of the hamstring group (antagonists).

Advantages of dynamic stretching are the ROM is extremely useful for athletes and those who are warming up for an activity that requires a wide ROM.  Dynamic and static stretches combined can prepare the joints for explosive movements more than either type alone.

The negatives to this type of training are that it should be used gradually and only by those who have been shown an appropriate series of movements. If inappropriate movements are used, small trauma may be experienced over time in the joints or connective tissue from movements that are too fast or through a ROM that is too extreme.

Flexibility exercises can be performed 3-5 days per week.

Number Six: Be Prepared with Your Body (Balance/Coordination):

Having good balance and coordination will help you tick off miles, cross streams, and hop between boulders, they also stave off injury by stabilizing joints and preventing falls.

Melanie Webb, owner of Sol Fitness Adventures says “Where the nerve integrates with the muscle fiber, there’s a structure that sends a message to the brain telling you where you are in space and that is what you can train to get better”.

As a person ages, they get tend to play less and stick to the same movement patterns, losing a lot of our natural balance. Some exercises to try after you have done some beginning strength training are unstable lunges, BOSU squats, single leg dead-lifts and front plank poses.

Again, if have not done any type of strength training in a long while, it is better to master the basics first (as described in number three above).

Number Seven: Be Prepared with Your Body (Nutrition):

One of the most overlooked aspects of hiking is nutrition.  Whether you are on the trail for a couple to several hours, you are going to burn more calories than you do sitting at home browsing the Internet.

If you hike all day, you will burn two to three times as many calories as you normally do. Your body is going to need fuel to sustain the higher level of physical activity.

Hiking nutrition really boils down to a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. It also boils down to timing. It is best to try and sustain a consistent energy level throughout the day with snacks and meals. Your calorie intake during the day will not match your fuel burn, but your evening meal should make up the difference.

If you do not take in enough calories, you will start to ‘bonk.  Fatigue will set in quicker than it should and it could lead to much greater complications.

We have hiked with people who did not have a good nutrition intake and it was a rough time getting out of the woods.  If you are planning your first hike in 2015 chances are you are not going on a long full day or overnight hike.

Simple food that contains the three basics (carbs, proteins and fats) are recommended.  It is also a good idea not to experiment with foods that you have not had at home yet on a trail.  The last thing you need is your digestive system backfiring on you because you tried something that did not agree with you.

Here is a simple, recipe for No-Bake Peanut Butter Energy Bars:

1 cup peanut butter

3/4 cup honey

3 cups quick (instant) oatmeal

At home: Combine the peanut butter and honey in a medium saucepan and warm over low heat. Stir constantly until mixed thoroughly. Remove from heat and add in the oatmeal and any optional items. Press into a 9×9 inch ungreased pan and let cool. Cut into bars and store in plastic baggies. No need to refrigerate.

Makes 16 (2×2 inch) bars

You can customize this by adding dried fruit, nuts, coconut, protein powder, seeds, flax, or wheat germ.

If you are allergic to nuts, you will find many other recipes that are simple to prepare.

In relation to nutrition, water is another easy but often neglected item that people do not carry enough of.  While there are products out there that purify the water that you may come across, you should not solely rely on this.  We have come across many dried up streams and water spots even when our map told us that they are there.

You should have at least two quarts of water with you and drink 1/2 to 1 cup every 30 to 45 minutes. Keep the water coming into your body even if you don’t really feel very thirsty. If you are hiking, you are losing moisture and you need to replenish it. These numbers should increase if the weather is hot and humid.

‘Chugging’ water is not a good idea, because it may sit in your stomach and cause bloating and possibly regurgitation.

We like to bring twice as much water as the mileage we are doing.  If we are doing a 4 mile hike, we will bring 8 20-oz bottles per person. If the weather is going to be hazy, hot and humid, we will tack on another 4 bottles.  So far in all of the hiking we have done, it has worked very well.

Number Eight: Be Prepared for Anything:

While that seems impossible to do, it is possible for just about anything to happen when you are hiking.  Simple things may not be so simple if you are not prepared.  If you cut yourself and do not have a first aid kit or band aids at the least can magnify into greater obstacles such as trying to stop the bleeding.

Have awareness that you are not alone in the woods, even if you are on a well-marked, very used trail.  Even a deer, squirrel or chipmunk can provide quite a wallop if they are defending themselves.  Respect their home and enjoy yourself.

We have come across the above plus black bear, rattlesnakes, porcupines, sudden thunderstorms with lightning among other things.  It is encouraging that you will take the step and go hiking this spring.  By being prepared you can minimize things that may happen and enjoy your experience.

Let us know when you get to the top!

Sites referenced:

wildbackpacker.com, outside.com, backpacker.com, outdoors.org, tetonsports.com, humankinetics.com, exrx.net

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